One of the best things about playing sports in Mays Landing, we decided that night, was that it was as color-blind a small town as there was in the late '50s and early '60s. Elwood, who lived on the outskirts of town, couldn't help but notice that he was black and that most of Mays Landing's populace was white, but, he says today, "It never mattered." He dressed at my house before Little League games, stopped at Joe's before football games and caught rides home with the Finks all the time.
Bob, who lettered in three sports in high school, and Elwood, who lettered in two, were better athletes than Joe and I—we both lettered in one sport—but we all had our successes. I envied Elwood the self-confidence that made him an excellent clutch hitter. Bob the finesse that made him an outstanding pitcher and fine defensive back, and Joe the street smarts that made him a solid blocker on the offensive line. In turn, they envied my moves on the basketball court. I guess they did, anyway.
We talked and laughed, and only toward the end of the evening did we bring up the one thing that was spoiling our reunion—our foursome was not a five-some and it never will be. The other member of our group, Robert John Gasko—Bobby, to everyone—was killed in Vietnam on Jan. 20, 1970, eight months short of his 21st birthday.
Bobby was my first friend, and nobody who comes along can ever transcend that status. He was one of the boats moored at our dock, a Mays Landing Laker through and through, a baseball, basketball and football teammate of all four of us somewhere along the line. We remembered that his death did not hit us until we met at the viewing, trying to grasp the unthinkable, seeing much of Bobby's brief past in one another's eyes. The next day Bob, Joe and I were pallbearers at the funeral, and Elwood looked on, blinking back tears. Bobby died, and it wasn't fair, and I can never return to my hometown and get away from that fact.
The McCallum family returned to Bethlehem, after having spent nearly eight weeks on the road and covering 7,000 miles. It was quite a summer. Chris, 9, now wants to be a rock climber after watching, open-mouthed, the practitioners of that sport out West. Jamie, 12, is deeper into rock-collecting after finding fossil specimens in almost every place we went, from Vernal, Utah, to Ithaca, N.Y. And though she remains a confirmed Easterner like myself, Donna picked up an appreciation of the West's wide-open spaces.
Me? I had to come all the way back to Mays Landing, N.J., for my favorite moment of the summer. It happened during our reunion dinner when one of us mentioned that this past season a tall right-handed pitcher from Mays Landing had broken the Oakcrest High record for wins in a single season. The mark had been held by a curveball control specialist named Bob Fink and had stood for 22 years. The young pitcher had also won the 1989 Robert J. Gasko Memorial Award, which is presented in memory of a former Oakcrest outfielder with a good eye and a sweet swing. The pitcher's name? Joe Cirigliano Jr., whose father was a decent power-hitting first baseman but not much of a pitcher.
I found out that evening that the circle does come around. But rarely does it come around so perfectly.